Month: June 2010

Where Gulf Spill Might Place on the Roll of Disasters

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Gulf of Mexico - ...

“From the Oval Office the other night, President Obama called the leak in the Gulf of Mexico “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.”

…The motive seems clear. The words signal sympathy for the people of the Gulf Coast, an acknowledgment of the magnitude of their struggle. And if this is really the worst environmental disaster, the wording seems to suggest, maybe people need to cut the government some slack for failing to get it under control right away.

But is the description accurate?

Scholars of environmental history, while expressing sympathy for the people of the gulf, say the assertion is debatable…” (New York Times )

A Real Apology … For Joe Barton’s Grammar

Joe Linus Barton, a Representative from Texas
Joe Linus Barton (R.-TX)
Humorist Brian Unger: “…As the humble son of two English teachers with master’s and specialist’s degrees in speech and education who took pleasure in scolding me as a child in both Latin and Greek, I’d like to apologize to all English-speaking nations for Rep. Joe Barton’s apology for apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward while he apologized to America for turning the Gulf of Mexico into a sorry petrochemical spittoon…
…[W]hen a congressmen demands proper English be the language of the land, and then destroys that language in front of an Englishman — I must apologize for me, myself, or I to my mom and dad; I’m sorry.”  [read the entire piece] (NPR).

Report: Water as windshield wiper fluid causes 20% of Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionella sp. colonies growing on an agar pla...

“If you use standard tap water in your windshield washer fluid reservoir instead of a cleaner, you may have effectively turned your vehicle into a biological weapon. Sure, that sounds cool and all, but according to BBC News, the only person you’re going to be hurting is yourself. As it turns out, using plain water can cause the washer fluid system to become a breeding ground for Legionella bacterium – the same nastiness that causes Legionaires’ Disease and pneumonia. Spray your windshield and the bacteria becomes airborne, allowing it to easily enter your lungs and wreak havoc with your immune system.

Researchers discovered the hive of scum and villainy lurking under the hood by attempting to discern why professional drivers were five times more likely to become ill than their amateur counterparts. After a little scientific sleuthing, the lab coats unearthed the bacteria. So do the world a favor and top off your windshield washer fluid reservoir with some sort of purpose-built cleaner. The stuff will kill the infection-causing bacteria and will keep the fluid from freezing in the winter. Not bad for 99 cents a gallon.” (Autoblog).

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Ending Poverty

HONG KONG - MAY 02:  In this Handout from the ...
“In the 1990s, Paul Romer revolutionized economics. In the aughts, he became rich as a software entrepreneur. Now he’s trying to help the poorest countries grow rich—by convincing them to establish foreign-run “charter cities” within their borders. Romer’s idea is unconventional, even neo-colonial—the best analogy is Britain’s historic lease of Hong Kong. And against all odds, he just might make it happen.” (The Atlantic)

The Grim Truth

Americans, I have some bad news for you: You have the worst quality of life in the developed world – by a wide margin. If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.

I know this because I am an American, and I escaped from the prison you call home.” (Escape From America Magazine)

Humans Wonder, Anybody Home?

Synaptic Gasp

Clues to consciousness in nonmammals: “Many people (some scientists among them) would like to believe that consciousness sets the human mind apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. But whether in humans or other creatures, behavioral signs of cognizance all arise from the tangled interactions of neurons in the brain. So a growing number of scientists contend that animals with brain structures and neural circuitry similar to humans’ might experience something like human awareness, even if a bit less sophisticated.” (Science News)

Doubts Raised on Book’s Tale of Atom Bomb

A new book claims that the Hiroshima bomb was ‘a dud’, its destructive power cut in half by an accident that occurred while arming it. But it appears the author was duped by relying on an ‘eyewitness’ who wasn’t even there. (New York Times ).

Experiments in Torture

Physicians for Human Rights logo

Physicians group alleges US conducted illegal research on detainees. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today released evidence it says indicates that the Bush administration conducted “illegal and unethical human experimentation and research” on detainees’ response to torture while in CIA custody after 9/11. The group says such illegal activity would violate the Nuremburg Code, and could open the door to prosecutions. Their report is based on publicly available documents, and explores the participation of medical professionals in the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program.” Download the full report at phrtorturepapers.org. Boing Boing spoke with the lead medical author of the report, Dr. Scott Allen, who is co-director of the Center For Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University, and Medical Advisor to PHR.’ (Boing Boing)

Chosen, but Not Special

Michael Chabon: “Now, with the memory of the Mavi Marmara fresh in our minds, is the time for Jews to confront, at long last, the eternal truth of our stupidity as a people, which I will stack, blunder for blunder, against that of any other nation now or at any time living on this planet of folly…” (New York Times op-ed)

Autism finding could lead to simple urine test for the condition

Autism spectrum
Autism spectrum

Children with autism have a different chemical fingerprint in their urine than non-autistic children, according to new research published tomorrow in the print edition of the Journal of Proteome Research.

The researchers behind the study, from Imperial College London and the University of South Australia, suggest that their findings could ultimately lead to a simple urine test to determine whether or not a young child has autism.

Autism affects an estimated one in every 100 people in the UK. People with autism have a range of different symptoms, but they commonly experience problems with communication and social skills, such as understanding other people’s emotions and making conversation and eye contact.

People with autism are also known to suffer from gastrointestinal disorders and they have a different makeup of bacteria in their guts from non-autistic people… The distinctive urinary metabolic fingerprint for autism identified in today’s study could form the basis of a non-invasive test that might help diagnose autism earlier. This would enable autistic children to receive assistance, such as advanced behavioural therapy, earlier in their development than is currently possible.

At present, children are assessed for autism through a lengthy process involving a range of tests that explore the child’s social interaction, communication and imaginative skills.

Early intervention can greatly improve the progress of children with autism but it is currently difficult to establish a firm diagnosis when children are under 18 months of age, although it is likely that changes may occur much earlier than this.

The researchers suggest that their new understanding of the makeup of bacteria in autistic children’s guts could also help scientists to develop treatments to tackle autistic people’s gastrointestinal problems.” (Science Blog)

Snails on Speed

Talk about an oxymoron: A snail on speed. No, researchers weren’t trying to make the gastropods slide faster—they were trying to improve their memories.’ (ScienceNOW)

Duke Ellington and race in America

Duke Ellington

‘Two years before Ellington died, in 1972, Yale University held a gathering of leading black jazz musicians in order to raise money for a department of African-American music. Aside from Ellington, the musicians who came for three days of concerts, jam sessions, and workshops included Eubie Blake, Noble Sissle, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Mary Lou Williams, and Willie (the Lion) Smith. During a performance by a Gillespie-led sextet, someone evidently unhappy with this presence on campus called in a bomb threat. The police attempted to clear the building, but Mingus refused to leave, urging the officers to get all the others out but adamantly remaining onstage with his bass. “Racism planted that bomb, but racism ain’t strong enough to kill this music,” he was heard telling the police captain. (And very few people successfully argued with Mingus.) “If I’m going to die, I’m ready. But I’m going out playing ‘Sophisticated Lady.’ ” Once outside, Gillespie and his group set up again. But coming from inside was the sound of Mingus intently playing Ellington’s dreamy thirties hit, which, that day, became a protest song, as the performance just kept going on and on and getting hotter. In the street, Ellington stood in the waiting crowd just beyond the theatre’s open doors, smiling.’ (The New Yorker)

The magic cure

The ancient Sumerian god Ningishzida, the patr...

‘…[A]s evidence of the [placebo] effect’s power mounts, members of the medical community are increasingly asking an intriguing question: if the placebo effect can help patients, shouldn’t we start putting it to work? In certain ways, placebos are ideal drugs: they typically have no side effects and are essentially free. And in recent years, research has confirmed that they can bring about genuine improvements in a number of conditions. An active conversation is now under way in leading medical journals, as bioethicists and researchers explore how to give people the real benefits of pretend treatment.’ (Boston Globe)

R.I.P. Peter Orlovsky

Allen Ginsberg with partner Peter Orlowski, Fr...

Poet and Ginsberg Muse is dead at 76: “Peter Orlovsky, who inspired Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg, with whom he had a romantic partnership for decades, and who wrote emotionally naked, loopy and occasionally luminescent poetry of his own, died in Williston, Vt., on Sunday. He was 76, and lived in St. Johnsbury, Vt.” (New York Times )